Tales from The Trenches Archive

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Making a ship date

I was on a PC game that was trying to ship worldwide before the end of a fiscal quarter.  For a large, publicly traded game company, getting a game to the retailers before the end of the quarter allowed them to book the sales in that quarter, hit their forecasts, and keep the stock price up.  As quarters got near the end, heroic efforts would be made to get a game out to the shelves.  At one point, I remember when we shipped the “speech pack” for a game weeks before the main game shipped…

Anyway, for this one game, we were in Final and fixing the last bugs that we were allowed to fix.  Every build had the chance for being “the one”, and every build was immediately burned and shipped to Europe so that the disk could be waiting at the manufacturer to be stamped out when the green light was given.  The boxes, the manuals, and the other data disks were ready to go, they were just waiting for that last, main install disk.

As the end got closer, merely shipping the game to Europe was not fast enough. We started having to drive to the airport and purchase counter-to-counter from Austin to the U.K. for the disk, which is pretty expensive.  But no expense was spared.  We did this for a couple of builds, with QA or Production running down to the airport every night.

We still couldn’t finish it.  Soon, counter-to-counter was going to be too slow.  Someone asked if there was anything faster…the only faster plane was the Concord.  We laughed.

The next day, the head of QA asked for volunteers to fly a build to Heathrow on the Concord.  This would be a one time flight, you could not leave the airport in London, and you had to take coach all of the way back.  But for one glorious trip, you could fly first class, faster than the speed of sound.  Needless to say, there were a lot of volunteers.  One lucky guy, who was not crucial to the testing, got to go.  Build in hand, he went to the airport.

That build had a killer bug.

So, the next day, another volunteer.  This guy came from a separate team, since we could not afford to lose expert testers. Again, build in hand, he went to the adventure of his young life.

That build made it.  Manufactured lighting fast when the green light was given, it shipped world wide, and made the quarter.  The stock remained fine.  The Concord trip became legend.

Ironic post script:  This title was a marketing SKU, the “Gold” version of a previously released title plus the mission disks and some new content.  But in the world of publicly traded companies, the end of the quarter it was important enough to spend tens of thousands of dollars on Concord tickets to ensure that the dollars flowed.